Three Pennsylvania Bridges Coming Down


Venango Veterans Memorial Bridge- now gone

During the Historic Bridge Conference in Pittsburgh last year, I was reminded by a fellow pontist, Nathan Holth who runs the Historic Bridges.org website, of how important it is to photograph and document every bridge that is threatened with demolition to better imform the public of the importance of historic bridges in connection with US history and the history of industrialization, architecture, and other social aspects as a whole, when we discovered that an 1873 bowstring pony arch bridge in Ohio was removed before we could photograph it. Although angry with the fact that the bridge was gone, he and I were lucky to visit and photograph the other bridges in the vicinity, for three of them are coming down and one has been taken out already.  While the Venango Veterans Memorial Bridge in Crawford County was removed in November of last year with no plans of replacing it and its railroad overpass a mile up the road, three other bridges are facing the wrath of the digger and crane sometime this year or latest next, with others set to follow beginning in 2013, unless PennDOT streamlines these projects in order to begin the bridge replacement process earlier (more will come as the construction season starts in a couple months). Here are the bridges one must see before they’re gone forever:

Miller Station Bridge (Crawford County):

UPDATE: Should the bridge still be standing at the time of this article, it will not be for long. The 1887 Wrought Iron Bridge Company structure, consisting of a pin-connected Whipple through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracings and ornamental designs on the heel bracing and top chord is about to be replaced with three tunnel-like steel culverts, which will impede the flow of French Creek, a large stream resembling a river. The last update is that work on removing the road took place in the middle of February. If weather delays the demolition process, then it is not too late to get a pic. However, don’t count on it.

Miller Station Bridge- maybe gone already

Charleroi-Monessen Bridge (Washington County)

Spanning the Monongahela River southwest of Pittsburgh, bordering Washington and Westmoreland Counties, this three-span pin-connected Parker and Pennsylvania Petit through truss bridge built in 1905 by the Merchantile Bridge Company was suddenly closed in 2009 due to poor conditions on the bridge deck. Since that time, there was a lot of political wrangling due to the fact that the bridge was (and still is) listed on the National Register of Historic Places and therefore had to go through the mitigation process in order to find alternatives to replacing the bridge outright. This included Pennsylvania Senator’s Barry Stout’s comment of abolishing the National Preservation Act as it is time and cost consuming and impedes the progress of bridge replacement, which resulted in a clash between preservationists and the politicians. Although Stout is now retired, the end result of the Section 106 Mitigation Process was keeping the deck truss approaches, but dropping the three through truss spans into the Monongahela. This is the general plan for the contractor Joseph B. Fay Co. of Tarentum, while replacing them with a new span, which has not been revealed as of present, for a total of $26 million. The process will begin at the end of April of this year, making it a possibility for bridge enthusiasts to see the structure for one last time before it is dropped by implosion and cut up for scrap metal. Once this happens, questions will be raised on whether to keep the bridge listed on the National Register as this technically does not count as bridge rehabilitation as PennDOT sees it, but as an outright bridge replacement project according to preservationists. To the residents and business owners in Charleroi-Monessen areas, it does not matter as they will have their main structure back in service by 2012, eliminating the need to detour to the nearby bridges located over 30 miles (60 km) away in both directions and thus hurting business in the two communities, at the same time.

Charleroi-Monessen Bridge- still around until the end of April


Wightman Road Bridge (Crawford County)

Also known as Stopp Road Bridge, this single span pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Town lattice portal bracing and geometric shaped heal bracings represented a classic example of a bridge built by the King Bridge Company, which built the bridge in 1887. Unfortunately, as it can be seen with other structures, like the Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadville, the county commissioners made their point explicitly clear that despite the fact that the bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and therefore has to go through the Section 106 mitigation process prior to replacement, that the bridge will be demolished and replaced no matter what alternatives to bridge replacement may be brought to the table. Should the stance remain, the county may risk losing federal funding for this project and the bridge will be taken off the National Regsiter list.  While the structure is located in some heavily forested areas, one could move the bridge over and convert it into a small park, like it is being done with the Quaker Bridge in neighboring Mercer County. However, the county has not thought that far yet and it is unknown whether they will think that far ahead. Good news is that the bridge is still standing and can be visited, but for how long?

Wightman Road Bridge- to disappear soon unless the county changes its mind

Potential Candidates:

At the present time, there are plenty of candidates out there that may be demolished as soon as possible. However for these bridges, the two variants working in their favor at the moment are: 1. No bridge replacement date has been set yet and 2. No decision on the bridge’s fate has been set yet. Who knows how long that might be the case, but as the lessons have been learned over and over again, one should visit the bridges before they’re gone as one will never have an opportunity to see what they look like. These candidiates include:

MEAD AVENUE BRIDGE IN MEADVILLE (CRAWFORD COUNTY)- While the community wants to see this unusual through truss bridge gone at the earliest possible convenience, there are still discussions as to what to do with the truss structure, let alone when the replacement will actually take place. More will come soon.

DONORA WEBSTER BRIDGE IN DONORA (WASHINGTON AND WESTMORELAND COUNTIES)- Spanning the Monongahela River, this six span through truss (5 Parker and 1 Pennsylvania Petit- center span and the longest in the state) has been closed since July 2009 and there are still discussions about the bridge’s fate still happening, even though most sceptics will claim that this bridge is doomed and it’s just a matter of time before it is removed.

CARLTON BRIDGE (MERCER COUNTY)- The future of this two-span Pratt through truss bridge over French Creek is in question as this Columbia Bridge Company structure is nearing its end of its useful life despite being rehabilitated in 1990. The question is should the truss bridge stay or should it go? Many claim that it should and will stay and some believe the structure can be rehabilitated again but for recreational and non-vehicular use. But the question is will it happen? We will see….

To summarize, that the bridges are disappearing fast does lead to two conclusions: 1. A person wanting to visit a certain historic bridge should do so before it is gone, as the replacement process can occur as quickly as possible and sometimes without notice and 2. If there is even the slightest hint of a historic bridge slated for replacement, one should take action as early as possible to ensure that it is preserved for future use, even if it means informing the media about it before the replacement plans are put on the table at a city council meeting. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will continue to present these bridges to the public (in addition to presenting the cities and regions that are rich in bridges and profiling historic bridges) to better inform the public on the importance of these bridges and their connection with history and culture, tourism and commerce, and preservation and reuse for purposes other than vehicular use so that people have a chance to either see them before they are gone, or take action and save them before they are gone.

Links:

http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/localnews/03-09-2011-Charleroi-Monessen-Bridge

http://www.historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=pennsylvania/charleroi/

http://www.bridgehunter.com/pa/crawford/miller-station/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/69048450@N00/sets/72157625965379129/

http://www.bridgehunter.com/pa/crawford/wightman-road/

Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadville, Pennsylvania (USA)

Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadville, Pennsylvania (USA)
Photo taken by Jason D. Smith

 

My first entry of the Chronicles takes me to northwestern Pennsylvania and this remote location in the corner of Meadville, located along Mead Avenue over French Creek. If one takes a look at the bridge on the outside, the first impression of the structure is that it is one of a kind that you will never see elsewhere. The bridge is actually two bridges built into one. The inner portion of the bridge was constructed by the Penn Bridge Works Company of New Brighton in 1871 and consists of two spans of a Whipple design (see figure 1) all built using wrought iron. Its end posts are vertical and consist of balustrades on each end and have Phoenix columns, meaning they are shaped in a somewhat octagonal shape. The portal bracings- the entrance into the bridge- are unique as they presented a series of geometrical shapes in the form of circles and stars that stretch out to the middle. While they are still intact for the sidewalk portion of the bridge which is even more fascinating, only a section of the original portal bracing remains after years of abuse by tall vehicles trying to cross it and/or vandals who wanted a piece of the bridge and disregard its value.  The Whipple truss was encased with an additional truss in 1912, consisting of a Baltimore petit truss design built by Rodgers Brothers Company in Albion.  The bridge served traffic until inspection reports revealed some structural damage resulting in its closure in March, 2007. The structure has been sitting idle ever since then, with its future in doubt. However, given its unique structural design and its history, there is an underlying story behind this bridge which starts right here:

When driving to the bridge for the first time, the first impression I had was its desolate location. It was located along Mead Avenue, which was supposed to be the main artery going through the business district of the city. But it was very ironic given the fact that there were only a couple businesses and if there were some when it was open, they opted to move elsewhere when bridge was closed. To me, it was not necessary to replace the bridge, as a neighboring bridge, the Mercer Street Bridge was located not more than a quarter of a mile from this spot, if even that. Furthermore, there was an adjacent park with a refurbished log cabin which together with the bridge would make an excellent historic district for people to learn a bit of history of the city, which to my knowledge is home to one person, actress Sharon Stone, a figure I’ll get to shortly.

But crossing the structure for the first time, I could see the neglect that scars the bridge. It has nothing to do with the rust on the truss parts, the railings that were dented or ripped off, and parts of the sidewalk were removed. It has more to do with its lack of identity to the city and its inhabitants. The bridge has been a focus of countless debates on its future as despite attempts by preservationists and other parties interested in saving the bridge or at least part of it, the community would like to see the bridge go at any cost. It is a hindrance to the progress to the city and the closure is hurting businesses already hit by the economic crisis, they claim. The desperation of the community is getting stronger by the week. This is noticeable by the offer from a construction company in Pittsburgh to replace the bridge in 4 months at a cost of just $1.5 million! And this brings me back to Sharon Stone.

We all know Sharon Stone from the films Basic Instinct 1 & 2, where the Meadville native played the author Catherine Tramell,  who seduces first a police officer and later a psychologist to bed and sends their lives into Dante’s Inferno, both literally and professionally.  But one must not forget the fact that these two characters belonged to a list of people whom the bisexual perpetrator lured them to her web through lies and deception, and eventually murder.  Now what does Sharon Stone have to do with this bridge? One answer and one answer only: desperation!

Looking at our culture, when something goes wrong and it affects our way of life, we try desperately to eliminate the factors interfering with our way of life as quickly and cheaply as possible so that we continue on as is. It is a form of short-term thinking combined with opportunism that has been taking its toll on our society today. We do not take care of our precious belongings, so we replace them with something better without thinking long term. This applies especially to our bridges, which had been ignored until the I-35W Bridge disaster in Minneapolis in August 2007. Again, even though we address the issues on our deficient bridges, we still make the same mistake by building bridges as quickly as possible and as cheap as possible, but at the same time, not do what we should have been doing in the first place: maintaining them so that they last longer. It’s the basic instinct that we face. Whenever there is an opportunity to get rid of the old in place of the new at the quickest and cheapest possible way, we jump to it, realizing that this piece of old has historic value that we might want to keep at least part of it. We’re desperate for something new and that’s why we have this basic instinct of doing what we do.

This takes me back to the Mead Avenue Bridge and its disconnection with the people of Meadville. It is more than obvious that the community wants to get rid of the bridge. And it is sad too, as many communities with historic bridges have converted them to pedestrian traffic- including those in historic districts. The city of Lanesboro in Minnesota and its beloved Coffee Street Bridge-located right next to the business district- is a fine example of how the community came together to save the 1895 structure. This was done in 2002 and the nearest bridge open to vehicular traffic was just as far away as the distance between the Mead Avenue Bridge and the nearest crossing at Mercer Street. It is understandable that action will need to be taken, even though through better planning, the city’s business district would be better off even with the bridge closed or converted to pedestrian traffic. The problem is through the basic instinct of trying to revive the business district through replacing the bridge, they are destroying a piece of American history and with that another icon that would have once served this quiet town. Then it boils down to the question of what Meadville has to offer. It has no birthplace site nor a statue of Sharon Stone. It has a Sheetz convenience store, where I ate before heading off to visit another historic bridge. And it has PennDOT’s own version of the Garden of Eden- flowers and other artwork made from old road signs! Nice work, but my instinct says “You gotta do better than that!”

I wonder if Sharon Stone was to ever visit Meadville again if she would recognize it as before; let alone how she would react to the Mead Avenue Bridge’s demise- assuming she has memories of it…

The next bridge in the Chronicles is the Venango Veterans Memorial Bridge, also in Pennsylvania and with that some facts about Pennsylvania and its bridges that are worth reading about.

Note: Action is being carried out to salvage all or what is left of the Mead Avenue Bridge. After rejecting the proposal to reuse part of the bridge by the Meadville City Council, pontists are working together to find a new place for the bridge. A link on the proposals is enclosed below. Should you be interested in supporting the effort or if you want to purchase the bridge for recreational purposes, the contact details are enclosed after the link.

Link on the rescue attempts: http://www.historicbridges.org/truss/mead/save.htm

Contact details:

Historic Bridge Foundation:  kitty@historicbridgefoundation.com

Nathan Holth of Historic Bridges.Org: Nathan@historicbridges.org

Vern Mesler: vernmesler@earthlink.net

You can also contact the author of this work for any questions or suggestions regarding the bridge.

The address is:  flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.

Thank you for your help and let’s hope there is a new home for a rarity representing the richness of American history.

The diagram of the 1871 Whipple truss design

https://historicbridges.org/truss/mead/drawing_large.gif

Information on the bridge can be found here via bridgehunter.com as well as historicbridges.org by clicking here. More photos by the author are available via flickr, which you can access here.